Archive for September, 2006

CNET News and the Importance of Librarians

Posted today on CNET’s news.com.com is a great article entitled Most reliable search tool could be your librarian written by Elinor Mills. The title is catchy (it certainly caught my eye) although not quite right in my estimation as I would like it to state boldly “is your librarian” instead of the wimpier “could be your librarian”, but the tag line is perfect:
Web search engines may hustle up quick results, but librarians dig up online information you can trust, say experts.

The article starts with the now infamous example of the white supremacist site about MLK Jr. which consistently ranks in the top 3 results of many search engines when looking for information on Martin Luther King Jr. To the untrained eye this site appears to be a good source of information. [note: I won't link to the site as I do not want to improve their page rank] In any event, this is one of my favorite examples to use when teaching the importance of evaluating search results and I know many other librarians use this example as well. Hopefully the word will spread about this site, people will stop linking to it and the page rank can be altered. But I have digressed…

Despite my minor semantic quibble over the title, I am very happy to see a well-known techie site publish such an article promoting and validating librarians. What makes this article even better is that they found the perfect people to interview and quote — the biblioblogosphere and librarian search guru crew are well-represented. Here are a few highlights:

“There’s a problem with information illiteracy among people. People find information online and don’t question whether it’s valid or not,” said Chris Sherman, executive editor of industry blog site SearchEngineWatch.com. “I think that’s where librarians are extremely important. They are trained to evaluate the quality of the information.”

“For some people, if the answer isn’t in the first few results it might as well not be there,” said Gary Price, founder and editor of the ResourceShelf blog and director of online resources at Ask.com. “No matter how smart and helpful search engines get, they’re never going to replace librarians.”

“The idea of the 1950s librarian, that’s outdated,” said Sarah Houghton-Jan, information Web services manager at the San Mateo County Library in Northern California. “You find people who are expert at searching the Web and using online tools; high-level information experts instead of someone who just stamps books at the checkout desk.”

And librarian created resources get a good plug as do subscription databases thanks to Gary Price:

A lot of people don’t know that they can get access to much of the walled-off information in specialized databases for free if they have a public library card, said Price, of Ask.com and ResourceShelf.

Other helpful sites are the Librarians Internet Index, which offers quick lists of carefully vetted, reliable Web sites, the Internet Public Library and Infomine, a collection of scholarly resources on the Internet, according to Price.

Consider posting this article your library intranet, staff blog, or bulletin board to remind your staff that although our roles may be changing our skills and abilities are still valued and very much needed (and that sometimes the media get its right).

September 29, 2006 at 8:32 am

Blog-based library websites: An interview with David Lisa

I recently sat down with (ok, meebo‘d) David Lisa, Director of the West Long Branch (NJ) Public Library, to discuss how he recently converted his traditional library webpage to a blog-based webpage.

Pete: Thanks for joining me this afternoon.

Dave: Always a pleasure!

Pete: For starters, tell me a little about yourself and your library.

Dave: My name is David Lisa and I am the Director of the West Long Branch Public Library. We are a small municipal public library. West Long Branch has about 8700 residents. We have three full-time employees and 7 part-time, 3 pages (PT) and one volunteer. I’m the only professional on staff. Other than that, we are your normal small burg PL.

Pete: Thanks Dave. So tell us a bit about your decision to make your webpage blog-based.

Dave: I had worked on several different templates for the new version of our website and nothing was working. Then I attended the Web 2.0 seminar led by Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine and took what the speakers said to heart. It really seemed to me that if we started with a Blogger.com format and expanded upon that, we would be able to accomplish what we wanted to do. Namely to be able to give our users news about programming, spotlight our collection and keep them up to date on new additions to our collection. It also dawned upon me that we could utilize Blogger’s template structure to organize our website by listing the links to the various pages on our site in the right column and be able to provide an archive etc. It did everything we needed! So, I set to work setting it up, then “adapted” our extant pages to the Blogger template format.


Pete:
Yes, the built-in archive feature is wonderful. Are there any other specific benefits that you see with a blog-based website? Any drawbacks?

Dave: Well we are getting lots of great comments about how up to date our site is. People really like seeing the latest news on the front page in reverse chronological order. And, of course, one big benefit is being able to offer an RSS feed through Feedburner. We like to stress that we can bring the news about the library to you on your schedule rather than you having to come to us all the time. One drawback has been that we have found that not a lot of people are acquainted with RSS feeds and we have to explain how to subscribe a lot.

Pete: That leads into my next question (or series of questions): Do you find that your customers understand the RSS feed? Are they using it? Have you done anything to promote the feed and/or teach your customers how to use it?

Dave: As I mentioned, there is some confusion about RSS still. I see that as being general initial confusion amongst the public at large. We really wanted to get the feed through Feedburner since they do a good job explaining it. We are pleased to have the feed in place and are actually waiting to see how it works out…right now.

Pete: Well, I think you’re ahead of the curve. I believe the next release of IE will have built in RSS detection and reader. At that point, knowledge and use of RSS among the general population is likely to grow quickly and exponentially.

Dave: That’s a good example of the confusion…try setting up an RSS feed with Firefox and IE and it’s a different experience. We wanted the user to be able to click through the experience and know little about what they had to do to make it work. Feedburner does a great job enabling that.

Pete: And of course Feedburner gives you great stats and bunch of other nice benefits!

Dave: Feedburner has a nice page that you get after you click on our Subscribe link and it explains the variety of choices of RSS readers.

Pete: How much technical ability is needed to create a blog-based website? Is it something anyone can do or is a certain level of technical know-how necessary?

Dave: Good question. I believe that the approach we took to revamping our website takes little web publishing knowledge and could be mounted by people with little experience. And I think that is the direction web publishing is taking. Jenny [Levine] and Michael [Stephens] mentioned that web publishing software (Dreamweaver, FrontPage, etc.) will be outmoded by this approach soon… and I believe them.

Pete: Well, Blogger, Typepad, WordPress really make it easy!

Pete: I see you have multiple authors. Who gets to post, and what do they get to post about? Did you and your staff come up with a blogging policy?

Dave: Glad you asked that question. From the get -go, I wanted our library website/blog to be a collaborative effort. I met with my Administrative staff and indicated that since we were re-creating the website in this fashion, I wanted them all to be involved. I also involved key members of the part time staff too (Book Discussion group moderator, etc).

Pete: That’s great!

Dave: I also wanted staff members that are posting to be recognizable by name to library patrons that read the blog and could answer questions. We crave a fandom. [smile]. This is a truly collaborative experience.

Pete: I salute you! The research going on in virtual reference shows that customers really like to have a name associated with the librarian (as opposed to being served by ‘librarian34’). Using names is a great way to bring about more of a sense of personal connection.

Dave: I wouldn’t have it any other way…I want it to be a personal experience for the user. We want to hear this: “Wow, Janice recommended the new DVD Lucky # Slevin. I checked it out and I loved it. Thanks Janice!”

Pete: OK, since we’re on the topic of collaboration… It doesn’t look like you have comments enabled. Any plan to enable comments?

Dave: We purposefully disabled it for now. We do have plans to enable them at some point, but we want to plan for it so we can handle it correctly.

Pete: Well Dave, I think you’ve done a great job with the site, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with us. Is there anything you’d like to add before we conclude?

Dave: I’d just like to say that we actually stumbled upon this idea by accident, and it was all due to the seminar… so thanks for sponsoring it. We’re always looking for new and different ways to do things here at WLBPL and we are having lots of fun with the website/blog.

Pete: Credit for sponsoring the seminar goes to Princeton Public Library and CJRLC (although we also had Michael Stephens present for SJRLC members that same week.)

Dave: Thanks for interviewing me!

Pete: You’re welcome Dave. Thanks again for your time.

September 24, 2006 at 6:47 pm 5 comments

Something Fun to Brighten Up a Dreary Saturday

It is raining here in NJ and my two-soon-to-be-three year old son was climbing the walls wanting to go outside this morning. I needed to get the house cleaned for his birthday party tomorrow, so I set him up on my laptop with Kneebouncers — aka “The Bouncy Place” as Alex calls it!

This is a great site for the toddler set — 6 different activities that will each entertain them for several minutes and it does not matter what key they push as they still get the desired result! Go try it out… it is addictive and fun even for adults (especially the “Jump and Float” game, which is the favorite in our house). While you are at it consider adding a link to it from your library web site on the kids page. Let those 2 and 3 year olds experience cause and effect and get comfortable with how to gently use a keyboard to get a result that is entertaining.

I got 20 minutes of free time for laundry, all I had to do was start a new game every few minutes. Once he learns how to manipulate the mouse we are set.

Enjoy!

September 23, 2006 at 12:36 pm 1 comment

Finally!!–Google Book Search links widely to WorldCat’s “Find this book in a library”

AND

Google Book Search has provided a relatively small amount of links to books held in WorldCat-participating libraries for some time now, even though Google has been allowing those searching the regular Google search engine to find books in libraries by providing the “Find this book in a library” link within some book search results pages. But, finally, today it was announced that this valuable library book finding tool is now highlighted within the Book Search service. Once you conduct a search for a book title in Book Search, look for the “Find this book in a library” link on the bottom right-hand side of a results page, directly under the “Buy this book” section. Click on the link and enter a zip code (or other location info) to find which libraries nearby carry your title.

The best news, however, is that Google’s “Advanced Book Search” let’s you immediately limit your search to this WorldCat search page by searching within the option “Library Catalogs,” which is located to the right of “All books” and “Full view books” options, directly above the “Return book with the title” limiter box (see example here). Once you do the search, click on the “Find libraries” link under the book title, and enter your zip code, state, province, or country information to find nearby libraries owning the item, such as the book Libraries and Google. I must say that I have been asking for this since the Internet Librarian 2005 conference last fall, and, finally, it’s here—and it’s about time! Take a look and try a search yourself.

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September 22, 2006 at 4:39 pm

A Test of Leadership–Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education

I just blogged about this on my personal blog, but I thought that Library Gardeners would like to read about it as well, so here it is:

In September 2005, “Secretary Spellings formed the Commission on the Future of Higher Education to launch a national dialogue on the need to strengthen higher education so that our students and our nation will remain competitive in the 21st century.”

It is stated here that their report and the response plan associated with it will be of interest to and respond to the “needs of all consumers of the system—educators, institutions, taxpayers, parents, and students.” Certainly, academic librarians and other educators will want to read this–don’t you agree?

Anyway, in case you did not know, for about a year, the Commission met, discussed, debated, and came up with conclusions and recommendations, important for all of us. They determined that the current system of higher education within the U.S. does not work well for some, especially low-income and minorities; financial aid needs a lot of work; and better information on our institutions is needed—certainly seems accurate.

Yesterday, the Commission presented its report to the Secretary, listing “recommendations designed to improve the accessibility, affordability and accountability of higher education,” quoted below:

  1. Student academic preparation should be improved and financial aid made available so that more students are able to access and afford a quality higher education.
  2. The entire student financial aid system should be simplified, restructured and provided with incentives to better manage costs and measure performance.
  3. A “robust culture of accountability and transparency” should be cultivated throughout the higher education system, aided by new systems of data measurement and a publicly available information database with comparable college information. There should also be a greater focus on student learning and development of a more outcome-focused accreditation system.
  4. Colleges and universities should embrace continuous innovation and quality improvement.
  5. Federal investments should be targeted to areas critical to America’s global competitiveness, such as math, science, and foreign languages.
  6. A strategy for lifelong learning should be developed to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of a college education to every American’s future.

On the 4th item above, I would like to insert after “universities” and before “should” this: “including their libraries,” or maybe even, “especially….” Adding “libraries” to the 6th item would work for me, too, especially if it stated how we are already assisting in this endeavor–what do you think?

Follow this link for highlights of the Commission’s report, for the entire full text report, and info on the Commission itself, all on the ed.gov site, and I recommend looking for the Secretary of Education’s action plan/response soon in the press.

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September 20, 2006 at 10:18 pm 2 comments

Warner/YouTube Marriage, ‘Internet Tubes’ and MySpace, Again

Another marriage between an entertainment giant and an exciting Web 2.0 startup:

It was announced this morning that the Warner Music Group, one of the largest recording companies in the world, has struck an agreement with YouTube to “distribute and license its copyrighted songs and other material,” although no $$ has been mentioned, yet. According to AP Business Writer Michael Liedtke via Yahoo! News, “both companies are betting they will be able to make money from the ads that will show up alongside Warner Music’s own videos as well as amateur videos featuring copyrighted material. To make the deal happen, YouTube developed a royalty-tracking system that will detect when homemade videos are using copyrighted material. YouTube says the technology will enable Warner Music to review the video and decide whether it wants to approve or reject it.”

I believe this will heighten YouTube’s already very popular status, although it will probably attract more ‘copyright police’ as well, but this is a bold move for Warner and seems like a great deal thus far for YouTube. I will be watching it, no pun intended. But talking about being funny, and since we are talking about YouTube, let me again highlight one of their videos:

You may have already watched the July 12th airing of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central and the episode about “This is the Guy in Charge of the Internet.” However, while I was reading about the very interesting new U.S News & World Report article What Parents Need to Know about MySpace: Your Guide to a Kid’s World on the Internet blogged about by The Shifted Librarian, Jenny also reminded me about this very funny YouTube video I watched earlier in the summer entitled “Internet Tubes” from the Daily Show. If you have a few minutes, you have got to watch it (or watch it again), as it is very funny and at the same time a bit sobering. Of course, John Daily “went out on a limb” in public to state that he believes “the Internet is a keeper.” OK, watch it and you will see what he and I mean.

And read Jenny’s post about the U.S. News & World Report MySpace article, Stephen Abrams comments on the virtual world, DOPA, and more–an engaging, intelligent read. Enjoy!

September 18, 2006 at 9:59 am

Wikipedia v. Britannica: This time it’s personal

Get thee over to the Wall Street Journal and read this gloves-off (you know, in a genteel way) debate between Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Britannica. Here’s a taste:

Mr. Hoiberg: No, we don’t publish rough drafts. We want our articles to be correct before they are published. We stand behind our process, based on trained editors and fact-checkers, more than 4,000 experts, and sound writing. Our model works well. Wikipedia is very different, but nothing in their model suggests we should change what we do.

Mr. Wales: Fitting words for an epitaph… …We are open and transparent and eager to help people find criticisms of us. Disconcerting and unusual, I know. But, well, welcome to the Internet.

Personally, it took me a while to get to the point where I feel a fair level of trust in the quality of Wikipedia. I think Wales has done an excellent job of creating a system that maximizes the benefits of open source collaboration, while minimizing the drawback and dangers of having too much openness. I’m reminded of the brilliant article Clay Shirkey wrote a few years ago, “A Group is it’s own worst enemy“. Shirkey, building off of the concepts expressed by psychologist W.R. Bion in his seminal work,”Experiences in Groups“, wrote,

Group structure is necessary to defend the group from itself. Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic [destructive] patterns. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members. (emphasis is mine, pjb)

I remember being struck by Bion’s work when I first read him in a college psych class, but Shirkey really brings it home. Although Shirkey is mostly focusing on social software, the concepts expressed in “Own Worst Enemy” are applicable well beyond that topic, and you might find yourself reflecting on the structure and health of your library (or your Bridge club, or your — um, make that OUR — government). Geek confession: I keep a copy of Shirkey’s article in a “Ponderables” binder on my night table and re-read it regularly.

But I digress. Point is, Wales has done a great job of keeping Wikipedia from being it’s own worst enemy, and I’ve seriously warmed up to Wikipedia as a trusted source.

September 14, 2006 at 9:27 am 4 comments

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